Elizabeth Mallet Palk – married by owl light

When Horace married Elizabeth they tied the knot ‘at half past seven by owl light.’ Now doesn’t that sound magical – I shall definitely be using that phrase at every possible opportunity in the future.

The young aristocrats married at that celebrity church, St George’s in Hanover Square. According to Lady Charlotte Williams-Wynn the wedding party had something of a wait as the Bishop of Gloucester was locked in the House of Lords for a division.

St George's, Hanover Square.

St George’s, Hanover Square.

Perhaps the guests gathered beneath the portico, watching the rich and famous enjoying an evening promenade along St George’s Street. Or maybe they took a stroll down to the gardens to pass the time.

Set in the very heart of fashionable London, St George’s, built in 1721-25 has been ever popular for society weddings and in 1816 there were 1,063. The first wedding to take place in the new church on April 30 1725 was between David Williams and Sarah Thomas. Flipping through the pages of the registers reveal some notable names. For example, on September 8, 1757 John Calvert married Elizabeth Hulse, the only daughter of Sir Edward Hulse, physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II.

And on July 22, 1765 the Rt Hon William Lord Viscount Folkestone, later to be 1st Earl of Radnor, married his third wife Anne, Lady Dowager Feversham. His grandson, William Pleydell Bouverie, 3rd Earl of Radnor would marry Judith Anne St John Mildmay in 1814 a distance relative of Elizabeth Mallet Palk.  Thereon in the registers are peppered with the great and the good, including a few more St Johns.


Horace was born in 1791 the younger son of Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour and his wife Lady Anne Horatia Waldegrave. Following the death of his parents Horace was placed with his uncle Lord Hertford who guided him through a military and political career. Horace served as a gentleman usher to the prince regent from 1818-1820 and also from 1820-30 following the princes’ accession to the throne. He then served as a gentleman usher to William IV from 1830-31 followed by service as an equerry 1832-7. He continued service in the reign of the newly crowned Queen Victoria.

The young cavalry officer fought bravely and was said to have killed more men than anyone else at bloody Waterloo, receiving several promotions during that year, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Col Henry Beauchamp Seymour

Elizabeth was one of eight children born to Sir Lawrence Palk, 2nd Baronet and his second wife Lady Dorothy Elizabeth Vaughan. Like several of her siblings, Elizabeth bore the middle name Mallet, reference to her noble ancestors, including another Elizabeth Mallet, wife of the notorious John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

At the time of her marriage Elizabeth was living at Suite II, the Secretary of War’s Lodgings at Hampton Court Palace overlooking Base Court. These Grace and Favour apartments were allocated at the discretion of the reigning monarch to those who had performed a great service to the Crown. Some families had a stranglehold on these hugely desirable residences, among them the extended Seymour family.

Base Court, Hampton Court Palace

Elizabeth’s first child, Charles Francis, was born on September 13, 1819 at Rendlesham Hall in Suffolk where the couple were visiting Lord Rendlesham. The child was christened the next day, perhaps because he was not expected to survive. The couple’s next two children were born at their London home 23 Bruton Street, just a few doors up from where Elizabeth II was born. Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour born 1821 and his sister Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth born four years later were both christened at St George’s, Hanover Square.


Their fourth child was born in the suite of rooms at Hampton Court Palace that Elizabeth had occupied for so many years. The week old baby girl was christened Gertrude Elizabeth at the parish church of St Mary’s, Hampton on January 20, 1827 – just two days after her mother’s funeral service was held in the same church.


The apartment apparently remained in the Seymour tenure as this is where little Gertrude died two years later.  The entry in the parish registers notes that she was buried in a private vault in the church, perhaps reunited with her mother.

Horace continued to lived at Hampton Court Palace and this amusing anecdote is recalled in Factsheet ‘Grace and Favour’ at Hampton Court Palace Suffragettes, Soldiers and Servants 1750 – 1950 Exhibition

Sir Horace Beauchamp Seymour (1791-1851) a single, dashing, former Battle of
Waterloo war hero moved into the palace in 1827. A spate of ‘fainting’ episodes
followed in the Chapel Royal during the services, where the strategically placed
‘helpless’ victims managed to fall into his arms. After the third successive
Sunday of fainting fits, the epidemic was brought to a halt by his aunt, also a
resident, who pinned a note to the Chapel door warning any other would-be
sufferers that Branscombe the Dustman would henceforth be carrying them out
of the Chapel Royal! By the following Sunday the faintings had ceased.

There’s something about Horace that’s just a bit – I don’t know, objectionable, don’t you think? In 1835 he married Frances Poyntz, sister of Georgiana Poyntz wife of Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer. Charles 9th Earl Spencer writes about this marriage in his authoritative book The Spencer Family.

‘Aunt Fan’ was known for her looks and her lack of intelligence. Although she adored Sir Horace, he had married her only to pay off his debts. He never concealed that fact from her and, as soon as the wedding service was over, he retired to his gentleman’s club to resume his bachelor existence. Sir Horace’s sister, a Mrs Damer, was so appalled by his behaviour that she immediately went to a jeweller’s and bought an emerald and diamond halfhoop ring, which she gave to her new sister in law, claiming it was from Seymour. ‘Aunt Fan’ never knew otherwise.

See what I mean?

Of Elizabeth’s three surviving children eldest son Charles, Lieutenant Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards, was killed in action at the Battle of Inkerman; second son, Admiral Frederick was a British Naval Commander and created Baron Alcester in 1882.  And in a strange twist of marital fate Horace and Elizabeth’s daughter Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth became the second wife of Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer. Her 2x great granddaughter was Diana Frances Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales

The ancestry of Elizabeth Mallet Seymour can be traced back to Anne Leighton who married John St John in 1604 and lies buried in the family vault at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Anne Wilmot

At the end of the 17th century life continued to be pretty short and precarious whatever one’s status. Medicine was still mired in superstition and women of child bearing age were particularly vulnerable.

Johanna St John’s Booke dated 1680 representing a lifetimes collection of receipts and remedies is held at the Wellcome Library, a repository of books, manuscripts and archives recording the history of medicine. Most great homes had just such a book – the difference with Johanna’s is that she included contributions from eminent doctors of the day.

When John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, lay in his final agonies, his mother Anne consulted her sister-in-law Johanna for a draught to ease his sufferings.

Johanna obviously practised what she preached, surviving the birth of 13 children and living to the grand old age of 75. Sadly her three Wilmot great nieces proved to be less fortunate and Anne died in 1703 aged 36.

Anne Wilmot

Anne Wilmot

Anne was the eldest of four children born to Elizabeth Mallet, Countess of Rochester, wife of the disreputable but talented second earl, John Wilmot. Anne’s early childhood was spent largely at her parents Oxfordshire home at Adderbury and her mother’s property at Enmore in Somerset.

It was at Adderbury that Anne married her first husband Henry Baynton in July 1685. Henry, the son of a family friend, was 21 and Anne was 18. Anne was a good catch. Along with her two younger sisters she was co-heiress to her late brother’s estate and brought land valued at £21,000 to the marriage.

The ancient Baynton family had long been pally with the Royal family and had played host to Henry VIII and James I at the magnificent Bromham House. Built in 1538 by Sir Edward Baynton at a reputed cost of £15,000 and said to be as large as the royal palace at Whitehall, sadly Bromham House was destroyed during the Civil War. Sir Edward’s grandson, another Sir Edward (1593-1657) rebuilt the Baynton family home as Spye Park and it was at this address that the newly weds set up home.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

At the time of their marriage Henry, Tory MP for Chippenham, was already engaging in a spot of property speculation, buying Hinton Priory, the Manor of Farleigh Hungerford and various land from the profligate Sir Edward Hungerford.

Known as ‘Hungerford the Waster’ Sir Edward was a distant relative of Henry’s wife Anne. Anne was the 2 x great granddaughter of Lucy Hungerford, pictured with her first husband John on the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. Following John’s death in 1594 Lucy married her kinsman Sir Anthony Hungerford, had three more children, bringing her total up to 13 before dying in 1597. Sir Anthony married secondly Sarah Crouch and Sir Edward was his grandson from this second marriage.

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

Henry bought the Manor of Farleigh with the Castle for £56,000. Although the immediate Hungerford family mourned the loss, they might have been consoled had they known the Castle remained in the extended Hungerford, St John, Wilmot family.

The young Baynton family moved in but within four years the dream came crashing down about their ears. Henry died suddenly on July 11, 1691 in his 27th year, following a short illness and was buried the same day in the crypt at St Nicholas’ Church, Bromham. Sadly all this property buying had left Henry up to his eyes in debt. His Will written shortly before his death devised most of the Hungerford estates to his executors Sir Edward Warneford and Walter Grubbe, to be sold to clear these debts.

Anne had the income from her mother’s estate at Enmore, which she inherited when she was 24, bit it was far from plain sailing thereon in. Anne was forced to sell most of the remaining Hungerford estates with her favourite Farleigh Castle and Park sold to Hector Cooper of Trowbridge.

Her two young children, John and Anne aged 3 and 2 respectively at the time of their father’s death, were placed under the guardianship of the said Walter Grubbe of Eastwell House, Potterne, MP for Devizes, although they probably continued to live with Anne.

It was imperative that Anne remarry, and quickly, but she chose her new husband carefully, marrying Francis Greville, MP for Warwick, on January 26, 1693. Francis was the son and heir of Fulke Greville, 5th Baron Brooke of Beauchamp’s Court, and herein lies yet another connection to Anne’s St John ancestry.

The Manor of Beauchamp’s Court at Alcester had been acquired by Sir Fulke Greville in the mid 16th century, inherited by his son and grandson. However the third Sir Fulke Greville died in 1628 unmarried and without issue and his titles and estate passed to his adopted son Robert Greville, his second cousin once removed and now came into the branch from which Anne’s second husband Francis descended. Unfortunately Francis missed out on inheriting the title of 6th Baron Brooke and Beauchamp’s Court – oh, and not forgetting Warwick Castle – as he died just 11 days before his father also shuffled off this mortal coil. All the goodies went to Francis and Anne’s eldest son Fulke who only survived his father by four months when everything then went to his brother William.

So where is the St John link? Beauchamp’s Court had once belonged to Walter de Beauchamp, the 4 x great grandfather of matriarchal Margaret Beauchamp who married Oliver St John c1425.

Well now we’ve sorted out that medieval Monopoly board, let’s proceed. Anne went on to have a batch of Greville children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Fulke born c1693, William 1694, Elizabeth and Catherine in 1698.

Her Baynton daughter Anne eventually went on to marry wealthy Edward Rolt while her second Greville son moved into Warwick Castle.

Anne died in 1703. Her body was returned to Bromham for burial alongside her first husband Henry. The photograph of her memorial in the church is reproduced here courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball.

Anne Wilmot's memorial Bromham

Many thanks to the Baynton History website.

Malet Wilmot, Lady Lisburne

If you’ve ever been embarrassed by a spot of dad dancing or a dodgy jumper and slacks combo, spare a thought for Malet Wilmot, youngest daughter of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

Lady Malet Wilmot

Lady Malet Wilmot

Malet’s dad was probably the most outrageous member of Charles II’s Restoration court, and that in itself is quite an accolade. He produced some of the rudest poetry and plays ever written and led a life of debauchery, dying at the age of 33 probably from syphilis or maybe alcoholism.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

In 1665 he attempted an abduction of the wealthy heiress Elizabeth Malet, after which he spent three weeks on the naughty step in the Tower of London. But perhaps it was all just a playful escapade as the lady married him some two years later anyway.

Elizabeth Malet, Countess of Rochester

Elizabeth Malet, Countess of Rochester

Malet, the youngest of their four children, was born in 1675. Her father succumbed to his excessive lifestyle in 1680 when she was barely five years old and her mother died less than a year later, so little Malet probably had scant memory of either of her parents.

The orphaned children then came under the guardianship of their formidable, puritanical grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester, the former Anne St John. It must have all come as a bit of a shock!

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

Yet despite her notorious father, or perhaps because of him, Malet was a very desirable prospect in the marriage stakes. Her brother Charles had died aged just 10, leaving his three sisters as co-heiresses of the Rochester family fortunes.

Malet was married off at the age of 17 to wealthy Welsh landowner John Vaughan. The marriage took place at St Giles’ in the Fields on August 18, 1692. Consent was given by Malet’s meddling grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester who had recently moved from her Oxfordshire home to a property in St Anne’s, Soho.

The couple had six children – three sons and three daughters – all of whom were christened at Trawsgoed, a vast estate extending across 22 parishes in Cardiganshire, complete with panoramic views of the Cambrian mountains and the remains of a Roman fort, held by the Vaughan family since 1200.

Trawsgoed mansion house

Trawsgoed mansion house

John Vaughan served as MP for Cardiganshire 1694-1698 and was created baron Fethers and Viscount Lisburne by William III on June 25, 1695.

In 1720 Lord Lisburne sold the manor of Sutton Mallet in Somerset, an estate that had been held by his deceased wife’s Malet family for as long as Trawsgoed had been owned by his own. The property was bought by the disreputable Robert Knight, cashier of the doomed South Sea Company. His son, Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, bought the manor following the enforced sale of his father’s estate. For readers keeping track of St John family doings – Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, was the husband of Henrietta St John. Malet and Henrietta shared a common ancestry and were the great grandchildren of John St John, 1st Baronet, and Anne Leighton and were, therefore second cousins.

Elizabeth Barry

Elizabeth Barry

Malet died in 1716 aged 40ish. Did she have a problem with her Papa’s past? Apparently not as she appears to have kept up a correspondence with Elizabeth Barry, one of her father’s mistresses and mother of his natural daughter Elizabeth Clerke. The former actress wrote letters to Malet full of local news and gossip. Well who would have thought?

And for the Royal watchers among you – Lady Malet Wilmot is the 8x great grandmother of William, Duke of Cambridge.


Henrietta Knight

Henrietta Knight was a clever, spirited girl, in character very much like her mother… and therein lay the problem. This is the tale of an illicit love, separation and exile with the rumour of a royal lovechild.

Henrietta Magdalena Knight

Henrietta Magdalenna Knight

The daughter of Henrietta St John and Robert Knight, later Lord Luxborough, Henrietta was born at her parents’ Grosvenor Street home on November 21, 1729. Named after her grandmother and her mother she was variously known as Madelaine Henrietta and Henrietta Magdalenna.

Henrietta's mother, Lady Luxborough

Henrietta’s mother, Lady Luxborough

Her parents’ marriage hit the skids in 1736 when her mother Henrietta engaged in a flirtatious relationship with poet and clergyman John Dalton, tutor to Lord Beauchamp, the son of her friend Frances, Lady Hertford. Henrietta pleaded her innocence, but this wasn’t her first indiscretion and her husband Robert was having none of it. He banished his wife to Barrells, the family home in Warwickshire and denied her access to her two young children, Henry 8 and little Henrietta 7. Little is known of the childhood of the two little Knight children other than it was one of wealth and privilege, estranged from their mother.

The parish registers of St James’s, Westminister includes the marriage allegation made on May 27, 1748 - ‘Charles Wymondesold of Wanstead in the County of Essex, Esquire aged twenty seven year and a Bachelor and aledged that he intendeth to marry the Honble Miss Henrietta Knight of the parish of St James Westminister in the County of Middlesex aged eighteen year and a spinster with the consent of the Honble Robert Lord Luxborough her father now present.’

Henrietta brought £5,000 to the marriage while Charles received £5,000 from his father plus a further £1,000 a year in land. The couple divided their time between their London home and the Wanstead family estate still occupied by Wymondesold senior.

Life in Wanstead was sociable and among the Wymondesold’s frequent guests was near neighbour Lord Tylney and his brother, the dashing Captain of Dragoons, Josiah Child.

You’ve guessed what follows! The Wymondesolds had barely celebrated their leather anniversary when they separated. Henrietta was to write in a letter to Child that she “never would have yielded myself a slave to passion but you found my heart an easy conquest because it was fraught with esteem and every good opinion of you.”  Like her mother these letters proved her downfall and were later used against her.

Henrietta and her mother had been reunited at the time of her marriage in 1748. Mother and daughter enjoyed a brief affectionate relationship during which they exchanged frequent letters. However, when Henrietta began her relationship with Child her mother would write to her friend William Shenstone:

“My spirits are not only depressed with what affects yours, as solitude, winter storms and more heavy winter evenings but also by the storm my daughter’s imprudence (to call it by no worse name) had raised, not only in her family but in the world. This melancholy scene to her friends, is, I suppose, an amusement to the public, and will shortly be a still greater one, who will divert themselves at her and her favourite’s expence, whilst her husband and friends lament her folly.”

Captain Josiah Child

Captain Josiah Child

Despite a plea from Wymondesold that Henrietta should keep away from Child, the couple continued to see each other with assignations in Paris and London – so it was back to the Courts where a new deed of separation was drawn up in June 1752. Wymondesold sued Child for £20,000 damages and was awarded £2,500 in February 1753, effectively condemning the lovers to a life of debt and exile.

A son was born in Paris on January 28, 1754 and the Wymondesold marriage was dissolved by an act of parliament on March 7.  Henrietta and Josiah were married in Paris on May 3.

Lord Luxborough was more forgiving of his daughter than he had been of his wife and apparently never criticised her behaviour and even sent her money for the support of her child.

The couple’s marriage was a happy if relatively short one. Josiah died at Lyons in the winter of 1759/60 most probably from consumption. Their son, 9 year old Josiah junior was returned to England where he became the ward of his grandfather, but found it difficult to settle in the unfamiliar country. It is said that he returned to the continent with an Italian family. The date and whereabouts of his death remain unknown.

Henrietta made her will on October 27, 1761, seven months before she married for the third time. It would remain unchanged at the time of her death less than two years later. On December 11, 1778 administration was granted to the Reverend Daniel Collins Clerk and Thomas Lloyd Esquire the Curators in Guardians of her second son Louis Henry Scipio Grimoard de Beauvoir, Count Duroure ‘for the Use and benefit of the said Minor and until he shall attain the Age of twenty one years’ following the death of both Henrietta’s father and presumably her son Josiah as well.

The brief document reads:

In the Name of God Amen Henrietta Child Widow of the late Honourable Josiah Child deceased being of sound and disposing Mind and Memory do hereby revoke all former wills by me made and declare this to be my last Will and Testament I desire to be buried by my late husband at Wanstead in the family Vault belonging to the Earl Tylney which favour I request of his Lordship. I will that all such Just Debts as I shall contract from the date hereof and the Expenses of my ffuneral be fully paid and discharged then I give to the Earl Tylney to my ffather and to my Brother one hundred pounds each to buy Rings And all the Rest and Residue of my personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever I give to my ffather Robert Lord Luxborough In Trust for the sole Use and Benefit of my son Josiah Child …

Her third husband was French nobleman Louis Alexandre de Grimoard of Beauvoir. Sadly Henrietta died in Marseille on March 1, 1763 after giving birth to a son, Louis Henri Scipio Grimoard of Beauvoir. She was 34 years old. Her body was bought back to England where her grieving father erected a memorial to both his children in the church of St Peter, Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire.

Frederick, Prince of Wales

Frederick, Prince of Wales

So what’s all this about a royal lovechild? Rumour had it that in 1748 the newly married Henrietta was introduced to Frederick, Prince of Wales by her cousin Frederick, Viscount Bolingbroke. A child born in 1750 and named Charles Knight was supposedly the illegitimate son of the Prince of Wales and a ‘Miss Knight,’ putting Henrietta firmly in the frame. There are, however, a few questions that need to be answered. The child was raised in the household of an unmarried clergyman by the name of Revd James Hampton, which in itself was unusual; royal bastards usually remained within the mother’s family with barely a flinch from the cuckold husband. It is possible that Henrietta had already acquired something of a reputation and that society gossips pinned the child’s parentage on her.

The two companion portraits of Henrietta and Josiah Child hang in The Dressing Room at Lydiard House, a room devoted to that other scandalous Lady St John, Diana Spencer.

Katherine St John, Lady Mompesson

Intriguing and frustrating in equal measure is the paucity of information available about some of these Good Gentlewomen. At least there is a portrait of Katherine St John on the magnificent St John polyptych, believed to have been painted by that Tudor ‘Curtain and Carpets’ master William Larkin.

The six St John sisters. Katherine is picture far right

The six St John sisters. Katherine is picture far right

Katherine is believed to have been born around 1585, the eldest daughter of Sir John St John and his wife Lucy Hungerford. Katherine and her siblings spent their early childhood at the medieval mansion in Lydiard Park.

Following their father’s death in 1594 Katherine’s two brothers Walter and John were made Wards of Court. Although Lucy quickly remarried it appears that not all her children remained with her. Some of the girls at least were sent to live at Battersea with their uncle Oliver St John – a pretty unhappy time for them according to Katherine’s niece Lucy Hutchinson.

Katherine married Giles Mompesson, the son of Thomas Mempesson from Great Bedwyn, in 1603 at St John’s Church, Hackney. Katherine could have been as young as 13 although this would not have been considered exceptionally young – her sister in law Anne Leighton was this age when she married Katherine’s brother John at the same church the following year. However it is believed that Anne and John did not live as man and wife for several years; the fate of Katherine is not known. Life at Battersea might not have been a barrel of laughs but I’d wager a purse full of gold and silver thread that it was preferable to living with Sir Giles.

In 1621 he was described as ‘a litle black man of a black swart complection with a litle black beard’ but perhaps after eighteen years of marriage Katherine had stopped noticing – there were far more pressing problems for her to cope with by then. Sir Giles was – how can I put it – entrepreneurial. No, that’s not quite the right word. Avaricious, a miscreant, probably quite loathsome I would imagine, that’s more like it.

The St John family, along with most other aristocrats of the day, were quick to exploit their advantages and Sir Giles had one hugely influential in-law. Katherine’s sister Barbara was married to Sir Edward Villiers, half brother to royal favourite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who was close to the ear (and other anatomical features) of King James I.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

Through Buckingham Sir Giles managed to land a few plum positions. By 1620 Sir Giles had been appointed Commissioner to grant Licences to Keepers of Inns and Alehouses, a hugely lucrative job if you knew how to play it. Sir Giles charged exorbitant fees – £5-£10 and those that couldn’t afford to pay up he prosecuted, approximately 4,000 people. But that wasn’t all. Sir Giles procured the patent and exclusive right to manufacture gold and silver thread. Apparently the process was incredibly dangerous. Wiltshire antiquarian John Aubrey records those involved in the production suffered badly – ‘they rotted their heads and arms and brought lameness on those that wrought it, some losing their eyes and many their lives by the venom of the vapours that came from it.’

This caused such uproar that the King called in the patent, but it was Mompesson’s abuse of his role as Alehouse Commissioner that really got him into trouble. Sir Giles was stripped of his knighthood, fined £10,000 and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, he had already done a flit overseas by the time the judgement came in so his sentence was commuted to perpetual banishment. Wiley Sir Giles lay low in France where Katherine joined him, and returned when all the fuss had died down.

The general opinion was that James came down so heavily on Sir Giles to appease a people that hated the royal favourite. George Villiers, an extremely unpopular figure, was eventually stabbed to death in a Portsmouth pub on August 23, 1628 by Army Officer John Felton.

So where did Katherine figure in this right old who ha? The fine paid by her husband was returned to her in a roundabout way. The King granted that the £10,000 be placed in the hands of Katherine’s brother Sir John St John and her younger half brother Edward Hungerford ‘in trust to the use of Lady Mompesson and her child.’

Sir Giles and Lady Katherine Mompesson

Sir Giles and Lady Katherine Mompesson

Katherine died in 1633 aged approximately 48. Her reprehensible husband erected a monument to her memory in the church of St Mary’s and outlived her by a further eighteen years.

Margaret Neville, Countess of Oxford

Well, it’s all over – the hype, the excitement, the criticisms – as last Sunday evening saw the conclusion of The White Queen.


I’m still not quite sure what I thought about it all. I feared for everyone’s eyesight as they all stared into the eclipse of the sun, a portent of Henry’s imminent success, or was it Richard’s impending doom, but it all turned out alright in the end. And while Princess Pushy Pants and Lady Margaret tested the ground for their future rocky relationship, series producers whetted the viewers’ appetite for another round of royal doings!

Princess Elizabeth - future bride of Henry VII

Princess Elizabeth – future bride of Henry VII

By and large, I enjoyed it; although I’m none the wiser as to the fate of those young boys in the tower. So the writers and producers took a few liberties, but it was historical fiction when all is said and done.

So now we come to the last Neville sister, Margaret and I’m wondering what happened to her husband John de Vere in The White Queen production. Did I blink and miss any reference to him, or did he get lost in the Barnet melee, which saw the demise of Warwick?

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

Margaret Neville was born in 1442 and unlike her sisters would apparently avoid the perilous marriage stakes until she was in her mid 20s. Her husband was loyal Lancastrian John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, who had already done time in the tower for his part in a red rose conspiracy. By the summer of 1469 he had been pardoned by Edward IV and upon his release from the tower, took off with his brother in law Warwick to stir up Robin of Redesdale’s northern rebellion.

Although it didn’t go quite according to plan and Oxford and Warwick had to escape to France, they were soon back. By October 1470 Henry VI was restored to the throne with Oxford taking a leading role in the ceremony at St. Paul’s. In 1471 Oxford and his men prevented Edward from landing off the Norfolk coast and in April of the same year Oxford commanded the right wing of the Lancastrian army at Barnet.

However, with a victorious Edward back in charge, Oxford takes refuge in Scotland and it is now we have the first real evidence of what life must have been like for Margaret.

He writes to ask her:-

‘Also ye shall send me in all haste all the ready money ye can make; and as many of my men as can come well horsed, and that they come in divers parcels.’

The Keep at Castle Hedingham - photo David Phillips

The Keep at Castle Hedingham – photo David Phillips

Presumably Margaret was still living at the family seat of Castle Hedingham in Essex with her only child George, but financial security would soon be a thing of the past. By April 1472 Margaret was living in St Martin’s sanctuary. Her status as the wife of a traitor rendered her vulnerable.

Meanwhile fearless de Vere continued his fight for the Lancastrian cause. He masterminded attacks on Calais, funded by a spot of piracy, and captured St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Following his eventual surrender in 1474 he spent the next ten years a prisoner at Hammes Castle.

For more than fourteen years Margaret lived a life of penury. It was said she relied upon the charity of others and what ‘she could earn by her needle.’ King Edward pardoned her but it was not until 1481 that he granted her £100 a year ‘on account of her poverty.’

In 1484 John was removed from the prison in Calais but while he was being transferred to England he managed to escape his gaolers. He quickly joined Henry Tudor and played a significant role in the contender’s victory.

Henry and Jasper Tudor

Henry and Jasper Tudor

Margaret and her husband were reinstated at Castle Hedingham but sadly their son had died sometime during his father’s imprisonment.

Margaret died in 1506. She was well into her 60s, a respectable age for a woman who had experienced the vicissitudes of the long years of war.

Castle Hedingham courtesy of www.balloonride.org.uk

Castle Hedingham courtesy of www.balloonride.org.uk

She was buried before the altar of the Lady Chapel of Colne Priory in Essex where her husband John joined her seven years later. Originally alabaster effigies of the couple lie side by said, she with her feet on a winged boar, he with his on a stag. These effigies were destroyed in the mid 18th century, but a drawing made in 1653 survives, the only known representation of Margaret.

The Kingmaker’s Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the War of the Roses by David Baldwin

Katherine Neville, Baroness Hastings

So who did kill the Princes in the tower? Sunday’s penultimate episode of The White Queen did a good job of considering all the likely suspects.


Ricardians will be delighted that Richard received a TV absolution – no real evidence here then, according to Phillipa Gregory, although his meddling wife Anne may have been responsible for 500 plus years of bad press.

Sadly I have to admit that pious Lady Margaret Beaufort and her slippery husband Lord Stanley are looking none to innocent, which brings me circuitously to another Neville sister, Katherine.

Slippery Stanley played by Rupert Graves

Slippery Stanley played by Rupert Graves

Katherine, named for her father’s sister, Katherine, Duchess of Norfolk, was born during the 1430s and was first married to William Bonville, Lord Harrington in 1458. This marriage proved to be a short one as Lord Harrington was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 along with the Duke of York and Katherine’s brother Thomas. Her father, the Earl of Salisbury, was executed at Pontefract the day after the battle. Katherine’s daughter Cecily was born after Harrington’s death.

The Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais

The Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais

Katherine’s second marriage to Edward IV’s friend William Hastings was most probably arranged for her by her brother Warwick.

During these difficult times large landowners such as Hastings had to box clever, but there was never really any doubt as to where William’s loyalties lie. In 1461 he joined Edward’s campaign to take the throne for which he was created Baron Hastings of Hastings, and later chamberlain. Hastings fought at Barnet, the battle that saw the fall of Warwick, and again at Tewkesbury, where Margaret of Anjou was defeated.

Just how happy Katherine’s second marriage was is difficult to assess. The couple had five children that survived infancy, a relatively small family by the standards of the day, probably because Hastings was frequently absent from the marital bed, for various reasons! As Edward’s right hand man and best buddy, William, like his king, was a notorious womaniser.

The Princes in the Tower by Paul Delaroche

The Princes in the Tower by Paul Delaroche

But actually no one had a bad word to say against William – well, apart from Elizabeth Woodville who was not overly keen on him as she suspected he encouraged the king in his licentious ways. But everyone else thought he was a good bloke. So where did it all go wrong? 

Hastings and the slippery Stanley were all for crowning the young prince, King Edward V. When Richard imprisoned the boys and their uncle, Earl Rivers, Hastings and Stanley apparently accepted his explanation that Elizabeth Woodville was being obstructive. But then Richard had Hastings, Stanley and others he suspected of conspiracy, seized in the Council chamber. Stanley escaped with a minor injury – well he would, wouldn’t he – but Hastings was beheaded without the formality of a trial.

The Princes in the Tower by James Northcote

The Princes in the Tower by James Northcote

How did these events impact upon Katherine? Well, she never married again, for one thing. And she lost much of the land Edward IV had given to his loyal servant. However, when Henry VII took the throne, Katherine and her son had some of their property returned. Unfortunately for Katherine her recovered estates included tenants who were slow to pay their rents and she in turn frequently found herself in debt.

Richard III played by Aneurin Barnard

Richard III played by Aneurin Barnard

Katherine died at the beginning of 1504. In her will dated November 22, 1503 she stated her wish to be buried ‘in our Lady Chappell within the parish church of Ashby de la Zouch, between the image of our Lady and the place assigned for the vicar’s grave.’